Brand Innovators Outlook 2022: Gaming & eSports

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In the eighth installment of our new 2022 Outlook Series, Brand Innovators talks to marketing leaders for insights into what to expect next year in Gaming & eSports, and what the category will look like as consumer adoption continues to grow.

Gaming & eSports have been steadily on the rise in recent years with eMarketer predicting 29.6 million eSports viewers in 2022, up from 21.1 in 2019, and 92% of global Internet users participating in some form of online gaming, per a study from GWI. 

Video games and esports offer consumers entertainment and ways to socialize in the virtual world, and these behaviors are only expected to expand. In 2022, expect brands to further embrace these channels as a way to connect with consumers where they are.

“If you are a modern day, consumer facing brand, and you have not developed an e-sports or gaming strategy, you are not headed in the right direction,” said Chris Davis, chief marketing officer & senior vice president of merchandising at New Balance. “We are all in the business of creating meaningful consumer experiences. Gaming provides a more intimate relationship with brand fans (and potential new customers) than traditional forms of media. Engagement rates are high, dwell time is significant and the competition that gaming inspires, enables emotional connectivity. Simply put, esports and gaming must be considered real sports when it comes to marketing a global brand. There are numerous ways that brands can partake in the world of gaming… In-game branded integration, hosting tournaments with loyalty members on a platform like RIVAL, paid media in distribution channels (i.e. TWITCH), or utilizing professional gamers through an ambassador's lens.”

Activision Blizzard research found that consumers are more attentive to ads in esports than traditional sports advertising driving higher performance. In 2022, brands will be experimenting and testing ways to use esports to engage consumers. Kristin Connelly, vice president of global brand marketing at Activision Blizzard Esports, said that the need for agility will be a key element in how brands approach the category.

“Marketing agility is here to stay. Not only is there a need to be agile to serve consumers better and operate at the speed of culture, but we also have to be able to respond to change and disruption as it comes,” said Connelly. “Accelerating a digital offense and building one-to-one relationships is an enabler, but the key is building a marketing capability that is specifically tuned for agility. Sometimes our own internal marketing processes can prevent us from anticipating and leading culture when the world shifts overnight. It is imperative that brands have the ability to act fast now more than ever. We not only have to build that capability and capacity internally, but we have to empower, enable and protect it.”

Brands have been leading with their purpose and mission over the last two years and Elle McCarthy, vice president of brand at EA wonders what this will look like in 2022. “I'm fascinated by whether non-mission driven brands will be able to meet the standards that the younger generations are putting on them,” she said. “We've moved past CSR to purpose - and a lot of brands are claiming an 'activist' role but will this stand the test of time?” As brands look to appeal to younger audiences through gaming, these purpose-driven messages may continue to show up in the gaming category.  

As we head into the new year, demand is on the gaming brands to develop cutting edge and immersive experiences that appeal to consumers. These companies must balance these demands with the cultivation of healthy workplaces since happy employees have been shown to be more productive. “As we return to the office, leaders are going to need to create a new sense of belonging for their teams,” said Andrea Hopelain, senior vice president, brand at EA Sports. “Especially for those who started work during the pandemic. Leaders will need to develop and have empathy for their employees as humans, parents, plant & pet lovers, kid wranglers, and more that they’ve gotten to know virtually over the last two years.”

“I hope that 2022 will bring even more empathy to our creative process, to our timelines, to how we work and collaborate,” said Laurel Stark Akman, creative director at The Sims, EA. “The real opportunity we have is around reinventing our working realities with extra care for our collective mental health. As we head back to some semblance of normalcy, we don't have to head back to business as usual. We get to re-imagine what normal should be.”

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